Seek First to Understand Then To Be Understood

Seek First to Understand Then To Be Understood


The most important word to know in mastering this habit is “listen.” Listen to your colleagues, family, friends, customers – but not with intent to reply, to convince, to manipulate. Listen
simply to understand, to see how the other party sees things. The skill to develop here is empathy. Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is a form of agreement, a judgment. The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully understand him, emotionally and intellectually. Empathic listening is with the ears, eyes, and heart – for feeling, for meaning.

It’s powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with, instead of projecting and assuming your own thoughts and motives. You can only work with someone productively and make an appropriate deposit in your Emotional Bank Account with him if you understand what really matters most to him.

If the air were suddenly sucked out of the room you’re in, your interest in this article would wane quickly, wouldn’t it? With survival at stake, you wouldn’t care about anything except getting air.
Empathic listening can be a powerful emotional deposit in itself, because it provides the speaker with psychological air. When that need is met, you can work on your agreement in an
atmosphere of trust.

On the second day of a seminar in Chicago, a commercial real estate broker burst in to tell me what had happened the night before, after class. After six months of hard work, he’d nearly closed a big deal; then at the last minute, the clients seemed to lose interest. Another agent with another deal was brought in, and they were ready to take the second deal instead. The broker didn’t know what to do; he’d put all his effort into this one deal, and now it was fizzling. He’d tried his last sales technique; then he just asked them to their decision. But they wanted to get it over with.

So he went for broke and said to his counter part, “Let me see if I really understand what your position is and what your concerns about my offer are.” As he started to put himself in the man’s shoes and describe what he saw, the man opened up to him. In the middle of their conversation, the man stood up, walked over to the phone, and dialed his wife. As he was waiting for her to pick up, he explained, “You’ve got the deal.” The broker had given him psychological air just when he needed it. It shows that when other things are relatively equal, the human dynamic is more important than the technical dimensions of the deal.